Two poems by Pascale Petit

Photo credit: Brian Fraser

The below poems appear in Pascale Petit’s new collection Tiger Girl, forthcoming from Bloodaxe in June. 



    Mongoose Brushes


After my father left, my grandmother called me
her little mongoose – her Rikki-Tikki-Tavi –
clever enough to kill the cobra under her bed,
which is where I hid when I was frightened.

Long after Father left, I learnt how men trap
mongooses in nets, then beat them with clubs,
how sometimes they even flay them
before they are dead, to sell their fur to dealers.

So, when I decided to become a painter,
and longed for the finest brushes, I prayed
that none of them were mongoose hair.
I prayed that even the precocious teenager

I would become, desperate to be pretty,
wouldn’t need such soft make-up brushes.
I wanted to ban the newspapers my father
read at the table, the black and white telly

that showed us the cruel world.
My grandmother kept saying my father
was charming, the perfect gentleman,
but I want him to stop arriving

as he’s been doing all my life, bringing
his tales of small mammals and what’s
done to them, while he skins me
with one glance down my eight-year-old body.


    Jungle Cat


When a cat walks through the sliding doors
at first you think it’s just a stray, then see
the pointed ears with tufts, ringed tail
and legs, and realise it’s a jungle cat.
You daren’t blink, breathe even, the air
holds your last breath and draws it out
while you look and look at the speckled tan coat,
the yellow eyes that have not noticed you yet.
You sometimes wish you’d stayed like that
with the brief visitor, Tala Zone
spread before you through the patio doors
and the perimeter fence, beyond which
the glamour of life unfolds at dream pitch.
You sometimes forget to breathe just
remembering it, her sniffing the doorframe
just as you work out what she is, and
maybe this is her tenth life, maybe she’s
unravelled the mummy bandages of the afterlife
and you are glimpsing yours,
lying on this bed while she wanders in
bringing the gift of just what it’s like
to really feel alive, to have every hair
on your body rise to become taut,
every nerve alert and quivering.
So now, when your image comes to me
I see your quiet face that welcomed
the wild one of our world, her portrait
juxtaposed on yours, every precious inch
mirroring the inner core of the forest.


Pascale Petit

About Pascale Petit

Pascale Petit’s seventh collection, 'Mama Amazonica' (Bloodaxe, 2017), won the inaugural Laurel Prize 2020, and the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize 2018 – the first time a poetry book won this prize for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry best evoking the spirit of a place. It was also shortlisted for the Roehampton Prize and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Her eighth collection, 'Tiger Girl', published in September 2020, won a Royal Society of Literature ‘Literature Matters’ Award while in progress and was shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection. Four of her earlier collections were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.